The San Francisco Unified School District plans to develop a new Arts Center at 135 Van Ness Ave. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Prop. 51 school bond puts pressure on development of SFUSD Arts Center

San Francisco’s public school system will have to play catch up if it wants millions of dollars in state funding to help pay for a highly anticipated arts education center.

The horse race for funding through Proposition 51, the $8 billion state facilities bond that voters approved Nov. 8, has already begun. But the San Francisco Unified School District likely won’t be ready to apply for funds to help build the planned Arts
Center for two years, district officials said.

The Arts Center is the latest iteration of a two-decade plan to move the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts into the Civic Center neighborhood and turn it into a $296 million arts education center that serves the entire district.

The SFUSD is hoping to get at least $47 million through Prop. 51, which allocated $3 billion to new construction projects in California, to develop the Arts Center. But school districts across the state are also relying on the facilities bond to build their new schools.

The queue for such projects is exhaustive.

As of last April, the state had already approved 29 other new school construction projects costing more than $160 million without funding to pay for them, according to the State Allocation Board.

By the end of September, there was another $1.1 billion worth of new construction project applications in California that had not yet been approved.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can accelerate this [project],” said Donn Harris, who the SFUSD hired this summer to spearhead the Arts Center.

Harris said the school district is banking on the Prop. 51 money to complete the Arts Center, though it’s unclear how much it would receive. Harris puts that figure between $47 million and $60 million.

Combined with previous bond funding and $100 million for the Arts Center from a local bond that San Francisco voters also passed Nov. 8, the SFUSD would still need to come up with more than $125 million through philanthropy or selling property, for instance, to complete the development.

Harris was hired to help that fundraising effort.

David Goldin, the district’s chief facilities officer, called the development of the Arts Center a “daunting task” at a Board of Education committee Monday. Goldin said the project will require all hands on deck to complete.

“There’s a huge number of people in the district that are working on this,” Goldin said. “The $100 zillion question that should be on a game show is, ‘What is the district prepared to do to close the gap?’”

The Arts Center is slated for completion between 2021 and 2023, according to Harris.

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